In any American history text, you will read about Henry Clay—politician from Kentucky, architect of the Missouri Compromise, served three terms as Speaker of the House, and regarded as one of the greatest Senators of all time. However, I can’t help but wonder if a man like Henry Clay—who’s nickname of “The Great Compromiser” is his true claim to fame—would have any shot at being elected in an era where hyperpartisanship seems to win more elections that “compromisers.” The latest evidence of this trend comes from the defeat of seven-term Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana in the Republican primary, a man who “built a reputation as a bipartisan player.”
Some say that with the defeat of Lugar, “Washington’s ability to rise to this task is now diminished.” One thing is certain, staunch conservatives can cross another RINO (Republican in Name Only) of the list of Congressmen to unseat. Is this another death knell for bipartisanship in Congress? It could be—Lugar was an institution for Indiana politics for a long time, but did not adapt to the rightward shift of the GOP that came with the evolution of the Tea Party. According to the Hertiage Foundation, “This is a product of the electorate — they don’t want milquetoast solutions anymore.” Politics is a market, and demand for a politician that reached across the aisle has decreased considerably in lieu of strong party players.
However, it could also be argued this election was less the product of hyperpartisanship than politics in general. Sure, Lugar has been criticized for voting to confirm Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, having an ‘F’ rating from the NRA, etc. but this was not a close, suprising race—Lugar lost by 20 points. It is more likely that those 20 points are the result of losing a campaign. He hadn’t faced a legitimate challenge in a long time, and was outspent by super PACs on both sides (because Democrats saw him as a formidable challenger in the general election). Moreover, he hasn’t lived in Indiana since 1977. While residing in Washington is not rare for lawmakers, it is entirely possible that he sacrificed his constituents in becoming an authority on international affairs and the leading voice in negotiations for the New START treaty.